Book 2 cover reveal!!

Happy Wednesday! I have something exciting to show you: the beautiful, second-edition cover for Book 2, The Illuminator’s Test! 

Book 2 ebook cover, Amazon, medium

Ta-da! Isn’t it gorgeous? Another masterwork of Jenny Zemanek at Seedlings Design Studio. I love the way this cover blends together beauty and danger: two elements that intertwine throughout this story.

The new edition features a new map as well as classroom-ready discussion questions and project ideas. It will replace the first edition on Amazon early next week, so if you want an illustrated, first-edition copy for your collection, make sure you grab one right away!

In other news, last week was Children’s Book Week at Village House of Books, and I was one of several guest authors at their Saturday party. I got to read a section of The Illuminator’s Gift to some adorable kids, sit in the Queen Chair (yes, that’s a thing!), sign a few copies, and even get my picture taken with Curious George!

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I also scored a first-edition, signed copy of Kate DiCamillo’s newest book, Raymie Nightingalein its special Independent Bookstore Edition! Kate DiCamillo is one of my all-time favorite authors and a personal hero of mine. Coming home to snuggle up with a new book of hers is one of the best feelings I can imagine 🙂 (As of Saturday, Village House of Books still had a few copies left, so call them if you’re looking for one!)

Stay tuned for more news about Book 3, The Illuminator Rising, coming June 2016!!!

Good Books & Good Friends: The Bay Area Kids’ Book Fair

Woohoo! The 2nd edition of The Illuminator’s Gift is now live on Amazon! The old cover may still appear on the Amazon preview, but if you order the paperback or e-book now, you’ll get the beautiful 2nd-edition cover as well as all the new features inside, including a new map and classroom-ready discussion questions and project ideas. Yay!

In other news, last Saturday I had a booth at the Bay Area Kids’ Book Fair in Sunnyvale, CA. In one action-packed day, lots of things happened.

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First of all, my mom and I set up this snazzy booth in less than 45 minutes! Yay us!

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My wonderful teacher friends Jordan and Annie stopped by to hang out and see what I really do in my secret author life. Thanks for coming, guys!

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I also got to meet this amazing young lady. She couldn’t wait for her class to finish reading The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test, so she got her own copies (promising, of course, not to spoil the endings for her class). After finishing the books, she drew this incredible illumination!

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Isn’t she talented? She gave me the drawing, which is now proudly displayed in my office.

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Speaking of talented artists, my mom did hand painting with designs from The Voyages of the Legend. All day long, kids begged her for vines of roses, compasses, and shiny double-colored lightning bolts. She’s the best.
And because I can’t ever leave a book event without buying a book, I met Aaron Safronoff and his team at Neoglyphic Entertainment and bought Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall. It’s a fascinating young adult novel with both black-and-white illustrations and full-spread, full-color illustrations–almost like a hybrid novel/graphic novel. Neoglyphic has spun it off into a video game as well. I’m always really interested in cross-genre projects, so it piqued my interest. Technically the book doesn’t release until April 27th, so I got an early AND signed copy! Next week you can find it on Amazon

So many lovely people and lovely books, all in one short day. And now, because I have used up all my introvert superpowers for the moment, I shall be in hiding for the next few days…getting Book 3 ready for you to read, of course!

Cover reveal!!

Dun dun DUN!

To celebrate the release of Book 3, coming June 2016, Books 1 and 2 are getting a makeover!

These new editions include beautiful new covers, a new map, and discussion questions and project ideas perfect for classrooms, homeschooling, and book clubs.

So without further ado, I reveal the new cover for The Illuminator’s Gift!!!

Final ebook cover, BN, smallest

Eee! This cover totally takes my breath away. It’s the work of the immensely talented Jenny Zemanek at Seedlings Design Studio. She worked with me long and hard, bringing to life the flying ship Legend and the magical feel of this book series. I couldn’t be more dazzled.

And while we’re looking at pretty things, here is the new map of Aletheia, designed by Brian Garabrant of Brian Garabrant Illustration. I love the way he made my flying islands fly!

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These fabulous new editions (print and e-book) will be available on Amazon.com starting next Monday, April 18th (assuming I don’t get eaten by the Technical Difficulties Monster). They will also appear in bookstores shortly thereafter. You can get a signed copy at one of my upcoming events, including Children’s Book Week at Village House of Books or the Bay Area Book Festival in June. (If you’re looking to snag a first-edition copy, the Bay Area Kids’ Book Fair this Saturday, April 16, is your last chance!)

I hope you love the new look as much as I do!

What Dystopian Novels Can Teach Us about ISIS

I am still in mourning over the worldwide terror attacks of last week.

I grieve for the families who lost someone in the violence. I grieve for a sense of innocence lost. And I am afraid.

ISIS strikes fear into my heart. A militant organization that wants to kill everyone who is different from them, no  questions asked, seems like a force of unconquerable evil. How can you reason with such a juggernaut of hate?

I don’t enjoy talking about politics, but somehow worldwide bombings of civilians seem to fit in a different category. And while I can’t pretend to understand all the politics behind ISIS, I have done some reading since the terror attacks. This extremist group is sweeping through parts of Syria and Iraq, killing anyone they believe to be an infidel or an apostate from their brand of Islam. And that includes lots of other Muslims. According to some sources, over 220,000 people have been killed in Syria to date, and 12 million more are refugees. Families. Children who have never known a world at peace. Last week’s attacks raised the question of where these people can go. Several world leaders are stepping forward to offer them refuge.

And in the midst of my grief for the victims of last week’s terror attacks, I think what grieves me most is the way I see some people reacting to the question of these Syrian refugees. Political figures who promote the complete and unconditional closing of American borders are the most visible. But we on the ground are part of it too. Last weekend, many people overlaid red, white, and blue stripes on their Facebook profile pictures to show solidarity with France. I did it too; I think it’s a lovely symbol of compassion.

But this week, some of those same striped-profile-picture people are campaigning to completely ban Syrian refugees from entering the United States. Homeless civilians fleeing from the violence of ISIS. Families, women, children. Some more vocal campaigners have even gone so far as to label all Muslims or all Syrians as terrorists.

There’s so much hate. Prejudice. Cruelty. Revenge.

And the reason for it all? Fear.

Fear that what happened in Paris could happen here. Fear that there may be terrorists mixed in with fleeing Syrian refugees. Perhaps, deep down, a fundamental fear of people who are different.

I’m afraid too. My knee-jerk reaction is to want to hide under the covers, let the rest of the world deal with its terrorists, keep them away from me and mine and everything will be okay.

But in a conversation with my brother over the weekend, I discovered one of the reasons underlying my love of dystopian literature. If you’ve hung around this blog a while, you know it’s a favorite genre of mine. I discuss it with my students frequently. I’ve always found it thought-provoking.

But this week I realized one reason I love dystopian literature is because it prepares us for situations like today’s–situations where fear is a monster in the dark and everyone is gripping a baseball bat, trying to keep it away. Because ultimately, dystopian premises begin with fear. For example:

The Hunger Games: The Capitol’s fear of a second political uprising leads them to exact a yearly tribute of two teenagers from every district (Capitol excluded) to die on public television.

Fahrenheit 451: The nation’s fear of unhappiness from the ideas in books leads to forced federal censorship, the banning of free speech, and a society based on mindless entertainment.

The Giver: The society’s fear of the famines and wars of the past leads to the systematic elimination of diversity, memory, and choice, ultimately leading to a community without love.

 

In each book, the dystopian (literally: bad land) setting arises because a climate of fear leads the society to make sweepingly inhumane choices: gladiator games, censorship, euthanizing society’s weak and helpless.

Today, in America, we have a unique opportunity to build our own dystopia. We can certainly let hate dictate our actions toward innocent people fleeing violence. (Side note: hate and  caution aren’t synonymous. I’m all in favor of background checks and security screenings for those applying to enter the United States, from Syria or anywhere else). But if we shut out Syrian refugees completely, the game is already over. Fear wins. ISIS wins. The juggernaut of hate will have successfully manipulated us into playing its game.

But something else about dystopian novels is that the hero is usually someone who stands up to society–who chooses something bigger than the cultural mania of fear  and hate. Back to the same 3 books:

The Hunger Games: Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games, sacrificing herself out of love for her sister.

Fahrenheit 451: Guy Montag sacrifices his home and his job to rescue, hide, memorize, and share books because he believes in the power of ideas to heal a society.

The Giver: Jonas absorbs and shares memories, ultimately sacrificing his place in the community to give his society a chance to choose again and love again.

I feel so small in this global crisis. I’m not a politician or a lawmaker, and I don’t understand everything. I’m only one person with a blog, some books, and a heart that yearns to help suffering people the way I’d want them to help me. So I hold tight to my dystopian novels, and to the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

Stand against the fear. Combat hate with compassion. Be a voice for light and love this week.

Literary Candyland

Phew! It’s been a busy month! So far I’ve visited four school groups, with one more to come later this week: one public, one private, and two homeschool co-ops. We’ve done fun activities like making up fantasy names, exploring our 5 senses, and drawing fantasy maps. These students, ranging in age from 8 to 15, consistently amaze me with their insight, creativity, and perseverance. One group was made up of mostly students with dyslexia who use software like Dragon, Siri, or Kindle text-to-speech to overcome their difficulties with print media. Some of them are writing books (or even sequels to books) of their own. It’s always an honor and a joy to meet these fearless young writers. (For details on how to schedule a visit for the 2015-2016 school year, check out my Speaking page.)

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With the school year winding down, it’s now time to mark your calendar for the first bookish event of this summer. I’m SO excited for this one. On June 6-7, downtown Berkeley will be closed to cars and open to readers! The Bay Area Book Festival is the first free, public literary event of its kind in the East Bay. The event is family-friendly and even has a whole area dedicated to children and another for teens. It will be like literary Candyland for two whole days! Here are some reasons to get excited:

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-Appearances by big-time authors like Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Judy Blume

A sculpture built of 50,000 books that readers can take home with them!

-Fun activities like book-themed sidewalk chalk painting, a dance performance by the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, a giant gecko, a farmer’s market, a chance to play with typewriters, and a petting zoo with a baby kangaroo

-An art installation of flying, talking books

-A visit with illustrator Amalia Hillmann and me! We’ll be at a table in the Children’s Area by City Hall, along with lots of other authors, bookstores, and book-related activity booths, including a stage where performances will be going on all weekend. At our table we’ll have coloring pages and face painting from The Voyages of the Legend, lots of different art prints and some cool new art products, and of course, copies of both The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test. We’ll even be unveiling a reprinted edition of The Illuminator’s Gift at the event, complete with a map and some new illustrations!

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I can’t wait for the Bay Area Book Festival! All the details are on the event website. It will be a weekend of nonstop book fun! I hope to see you there!

Read Like A Girl/Boy?

There’s been a lot of buzz about gender-divided reading lately. Last month Shannon Hale, author of Princess Academy, blogged about her frustrations with gender-divided school visits. Because some of her books have the word “princess” in the title (and perhaps because she’s a female author), some schools have excused their girls to attend Hale’s assemblies, but not their boys, assuming–or forcing–boys’ disinterest. Yet Hale reports the story of a boy who asked to buy her princess book by whispering in her ear, too ashamed to admit it in front of either classmates or teachers.

Then last week, The Independent announced that it would no longer review books marketed to exclude either sex. For example, Buster Books markets books with titles like “The Beautiful Girls’ Coloring Book” and “The Brilliant Boys’ Coloring Book,” limiting the former to topics like fashion and the latter to sports, and using cover colors like pink and blue as cues. The Independent pointed out that such marketing is demeaning to kids, who are people of complex and diverse personalities. Some girls like to play and read about sports; some boys grow up to be fashion writers. The Independent further argued that the best books have universal appeal. Instead of spending energy marketing “boy books” or “girl books,” the publication urged putting out good books and letting people pick their own. Both girls and boys, for example, devour Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, undeterred by the sex of the protagonist and unaided by a pink or blue cover. It makes sense from my own experience: as a kid, I read and loved both Anne of Green Gables and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, simply because both were great books.

As an author and educator, I feel drawn to this debate. Reading fiction is all about identification with a character: learning to see the world through another pair of eyes. If you want to live many lives in the space of one, read books. When kids first start reading, they tend to choose protagonists who are similar to them in age, personality, and life circumstances. This is also true of gender: when they are beginning readers, my girl students tend to choose books about girls, and boys about boys. But the power of reading doesn’t leave us where we are. As we grow and mature as readers, we learn to see the world through eyes other than our own. It’s called empathy, and fiction has been proven to increase this skill. As adults (especially those in the roles of parents and teachers), it’s our job to expose kids to books about people who are not like them. It’s part of raising kind, thoughtful, and compassionate human beings.

As a writer of children’s literature, I feel especially strongly about this. The Illuminator’s Gift features a female protagonist. True, many of my readers are girls who identify with Ellie, a 12-year-old girl. But some of my readers are boys who identify with Ellie too. They’ve told me she’s their favorite character in the book because she’s kind and finds the courage to be brave when she needs to. The fact that she’s a girl doesn’t change that. That’s why I have never advertised my books as being only “for girls,” despite my female protagonist. I applaud these boys who are learning to see through the eyes of someone who is different from them.

Ultimately, it seems to me unjust that a child should be discouraged from reading a book because of their sex. Whether by gender-based marketing or discriminatory school policies, to keep a boy out of a female author’s school visit or label a book on rocketships and backhoes as being only for “Brilliant Boys” seems like a form of soft censorship. How can one person predetermine what another may read, on the basis of sex of all things? Why not filter their reading based on class, ethnicity, or shoe size? Sound like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or The Giver? (It’s no wonder reading speculative fiction is connected with having better ethics.) Kids (and adults) should never be shamed or pressured out of reading a book on the basis of gender expectations. To do so limits the ideas they’re exposed to, and thereby the amount of imagination, compassion, and empathy they can develop. It’s cutting off our own nose by handicapping our society’s future.

My caveat to this is as an educator. Some of my students are reluctant readers who struggle with comprehension, let alone finding enjoyment in reading. For these students, I place the love of reading as the first and highest priority. I give these students books that are as easy as possible for them to identify with. For my beginner boy students, I choose books with male protagonists and subject matter I know the students will enjoy. It’s most important to me that my students learn to associate reading with pleasure. If that connection isn’t there, they will never reach for the ideas and empathy that harder books can teach them. Only once that reading-for-fun habit is established do I challenge them to read about characters who are different from themselves. Only then can they begin to appreciate the Anne Shirleys, the Jo Marches, the Karanas of literature.

Have you tuned in to the debates on gender-divided reading? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

An Uncommon Core: Seven Dreams for My Writing Students

As my day job, I teach students to love words. My work as a one-on-one writing coach takes me into the homes of students who range from elementary to high school. Some of them are in tutoring under duress, to make their language arts grades match their excellence in math and science. Others are there to develop the spark of language love they already have. In both cases, I have dreams for them–and for all who set out on the road to writing.

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My students, I dream for you: 

1. A love of reading. We will start with easy, fun books about camping or chocolate factories that I guarantee you will love. Then, as we train, we will read harder books about harder subjects, but by then you will not even notice the difficulty as you get lost in the stories. I dream that you will learn to read fiction and not just analyze plot and theme, but also learn to see literature as a great conversation that has taken place across continents and centuries. Most of all, I hope that you will find your own place in this conversation about love, courage, hope, and sacrifice: whether as a reader, a writer, or just as a compassionate human being in this world.

2. Competence with ideas. Life is full of ideas, and I want you to be able to comprehend, summarize, and analyze them. Then I want you to be able to communicate your own ideas in organized, well-supported arguments with theses that appreciate the complexity and nuance in the world. The building blocks may fall into place slowly and painstakingly, with numerous five-paragraph essays for practice, but I dream that you will grow into people who can communicate your thoughts in a way that commands respect.

3. Curiosity. I want you to learn to ask questions, lots of questions, even questions that may have no simple answer. I want you to think about others’ ideas, and more importantly, I want you to  care. First your opinions may be black-and-white: is the Great White Shark a danger or a marvel? But I hope you will eventually develop nuance as you face the tensions in life: is a world without pain worth the elimination of choice?

4: Creativity. You may never truly love poetry or receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, but still, I want you to try writing stories and poems. I dream that you will learn to play with words and discover the beauty of looking at life a little differently. You may even discover an unexpected gift of expression.

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5. A functional vocabulary. Big words can be lovely, but better are meaningful words. I want you to avoid the word “thing” at all costs and learn words that will get you as close to your desired meaning as possible: to find lightning instead of settling for the lightning bug, as Mark Twain put it. I also dream that you will learn to hear the music in words and taste their savor.

6. The practice of self-editing. I hope that you will come to understand that every work needs revision. I hope that you will learn to expand your ideas while economizing your words. If you learn nothing else from me, I really, really hope you will learn the difference between their/there/they’re.

7. In the long run, I dearly hope that you will come to see yourself as the driver of your education. Some of you are very young, and you go to school and do homework because your parents (or your tutor) require it of you. But I dream that as you grow, you will read and write and learn not because you have to, but because your passion and curiosity and creativity become impossible to contain.

I am always cheering for you,

Your tutor

A Newsy Month for Books

Lots of exciting updates here! Besides being my birthday month, February has been a big one for the books!

First was the FANTASTIC news that Reader’s Favorite, an independent website, published a 5-star review of The Illuminator’s Gift (and gave it a shiny medal)!! I was so honored and encouraged to receive this kind of praise from a third-party source. You can read the review here. If you haven’t already left your own Amazon review of The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test, I’d greatly appreciate it!

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Next up: I’m pleased to announce that you can now find BOTH my books shelved at Village House of Books (Los Gatos), Spectator Books (Piedmont), and Hicklebee’s (Willow Glen)! I won’t deny that I enjoy the convenience of Amazon, but if you’re looking for my books, consider doing something good for your neighborhood and picking up a copy at one of these local shops (they’re super cute on the inside, too!).

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Last but not least: this month I had the opportunity to be the first-ever author guest at the College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose. This innovative program offers adults with disabilities the opportunity to flourish by learning a variety of creative and life skills in a safe and nurturing environment. To be honest, presenting a lecture here was a stretching experience for me. Standard presentation formats all went out the window in the first five minutes. But in exchange, I got to witness the unique perspective and unlimited enthusiasm of these sweet students. They understand, perhaps more than anyone, that writing means seeing the world a little differently, like looking through a kaleidoscope.

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More exciting events are in the works, so keep checking back to the News & Events page for updates! To find out how to book me as a speaker at your own school, homeschool group, or event, check out the Speaking page. 

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Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everybody!

Just a quick reminder that you can get the e-book of Book 1, The Illuminator’s Gifton sale this weekend: 99 cents ’til midnight tonight, $1.99 tomorrow, $2.99 Sunday!

And 3 days from now…

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Book 2 arrives!!!

Here’s what it’s about:

As Ellie and her friends start new lives on the flying island of Rhynlyr, Ellie hopes she’s finally found a home. At the Academy, she learns to wield her gift of Sight and discovers her role in the war against Draaken. But Draaken also wants to control Ellie’s gift. With the help of a blind mentor, an elite bodyguard, and a hostile singer, Ellie must navigate a storm of danger and deception that threatens to cut her off from her friends and corrupt her very self. When disaster strikes, will she find the courage to fight for her friends and the future of the One Kingdom?

Count down with me to 12/1/14!!!

3…2…1…

Research on the Weather Deck

Some people think all writers do is sit in dimly lit rooms in their pajamas and commune with the muse. And that’s some of what we do, some of the time.

But when we’re not working our day jobs, making marketing plans, lifting boxes of books, talking to classrooms of kids, crunching numbers, or creating charming social media profiles…

…we might be out doing research.

Sometimes research looks like a Google search. (Heaven knows I have enough weird sites bookmarked to make the government very suspicious.) Sometimes research looks like interviewing a knowledgeable person.

But sometimes it looks like getting on a boat.

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Both The Illuminator’s Gift and its upcoming sequel, The Illuminator’s Test, feature the Legend, a flying ship in the fantasy world of Aletheia. But flying ship though it may be, it still needs to imitate some behaviors of a water ship. Between my history of seasickness and a lack of physical coordination, I had almost no experience with sailing. But when one of my excellent test readers pointed out some major holes in my sailing scenes, I knew it was time to get some.

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Enter the Hawaiian Chieftain, Tall Ship and companion to the Lady Washington (better known as the Interceptor from Pirates of the Caribbean). This ship travels up and down the West Coast every year, doing educational tours and teaching landlubbers like me a thing or two about sailing. So my trusty sales manager/photographer/mom and I set out to see the sea (or at least the San Joaquin River).

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Captain Eamon was incredibly patient in teaching me the ropes–er, lines. In two jam-packed hours, I learned the difference between a ketch and a schooner, a mainmast and a mizzenmast, a jib and a topsail, and of course, a rope and a line. (A rope is a line without a job.)

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More importantly, I learned things the Internet could never have taught me–for example, how much a line weighs. (Answer: a lot.) I got a chance to help trim the sails alongside the crew. Thank you to Bailey and Jamie for giving me a chance to get some rope burns and personal experience.

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I also got to watch some crewmembers climb the shrouds to trim the topsails. It looked fun, but also precarious on this windy day. Unfortunately, passengers were not allowed up (liability issues). Even the working crew clipped themselves on with climbing hooks to keep from falling/flying off.

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Best of all, I got to steer the boat for about twenty seconds. The Hawaiian Chieftain has very sophisticated navigation equipment (what my characters wouldn’t give for a GPS!) but it still has a beautifully old-fashioned helm.

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After a fun and exhausting day of research, I learned two valuable lessons:

1) I would make a terrible sailor.

2) Writing is much improved by hands-on experience.

Keep a weather eye out for the influence of the Hawaiian Chieftain in The Illuminator’s Test, coming December 1st!